Side Effects of Prescription Hair Loss Treatments


Just like many kinds of loss, losing hair can also cause a lot of grief. The sight of shedding and thinning of hair can make people scrambling for a solution. However, only a handful of such solutions have proven to be effective. Such a condition can also be a sign of a bigger problem and warrants an immediate trip to the doctor to be sure.

An assistant professor of clinical dermatology at the University of California, Rana Sivanami once said  “Hair loss is very distressing and can change a person’s social identity. That is why it is very important to have open communication with my patients regarding the treatment options.”

Fortunately, such options for hair loss treatment do exist but not in every case. Hair loss is mainly of two types: non-scarring and scaring. Non scarring is the one in which the follicles are still present and in the scarring type, the hair follicles get damaged. The scarring type of hair loss where the follicles are still present are treatable. However, it is not possible to regrow hair in damaged follicles in non-scarring type.

Thus there are many different forms and causes of hair fall. The right type of treatment depends on what kind of problem you have. The most common type of hair loss treatment carried out is androgenetic alopecia. This treatment is also known as male and female pattern hair loss. This is the common form that most people refer to when talking about hair loss.

Telogen Effluvium is another type where hair sheds in response to mental and physical stress. There is also an autoimmune disease called Alopecia Areata in which the inflammation of the follicles results in the formation of patches of baldness or total baldness. It is recommended to get a correct diagnosis because all forms of alopecia are not created equal. Several types of treatments can have several types of side effects:


This treats androgenetic alopecia. The exact mechanism is not known. But it is believed that medication helps to stimulate the hair follicle to enter into a growth cycle. One of the potential side effects of this treatment is scalp irritation. It can result in the growth of facial hair in women. Doctors say that androgenetic alopecia is a progressive disorder and doesn’t go away. Rogaine can slow down hair loss and can result in some regrowth in certain people. However, if stopped using, the hair loss will start again.


This is an FDA approved oral medication. It is mainly used to treat hair loss problems in men. It is known to work by converting testosterone to dihydrotestosterone(DTHA). DTHA is a hormone that helps to move the follicle into the resting phase.  So the medication reduces the number of hair follicles going into the resting phase. The blockage of testosterone results in many side effects. The most common side effects of this treatment include sexual issues like erectile dysfunction which leaves an adverse effect on an estimated 1-6% of users.


In case the hair loss is caused by inflammation, another option is the steroids. They can be either injected or topically used to reduce the inflammation that is causing hair loss in alopecia areata. However, their over-usage can thin the skin. That is why it is very important to consult a certified dermatologist to know how to use the steroids appropriately during the treatment.

Oral supplements

Many patients prefer to take oral supplements. Some of the common oral supplements available in the market are Biotin, Viviscal, and BioSil. All the supplements available on the market may not help the hair regrow but can make it thick and strong. Biotin does not have many side effects however it won’t show any effect if not used for the correct reason. The most common symptom of consumption of oral supplements is an upset stomach. However, you can also experience other troublesome side effects. In that case, stop taking the medication and consult a doctor immediately.

Laser therapy

The newest treatment in the market is the low-level laser therapy. This therapy is believed to stimulate hair growth. During the laser hair treatment, the laser emits a light that is absorbed by the melanin pigment in the hair. This light energy gets converted to heat. The most common side effects for the laser treatment of hair are

Irritation of the skin

Laser hair treatment can result in temporary discomfort, redness, and swelling of the skin. However such signs and symptoms usually disappear within several hours.

Change of pigmentation

Laser treatment of the hair can lighten or darken the affected areas. These changes can be temporary as well as permanent.  In case the pigmentation does not go with time, it is better to consult a dermatologist.

Other effects

Laser treatment of the hair can cause blistering, scarring, crusting, or other changes in the texture of the skin. Other side effects include discoloration of the hair or excess growth of hair around the skin of adjacent face and hand areas. This test is not recommended for the sensitive scalp.

Hair transplant surgery

Only the top part of the head gets affected in most type of permanent hair loss. Hair transplant surgery or restoration surgery helps to make the most of the hair that you have left during this treatment, the cosmetic surgeon first removes the hair from that part of the head that has much hair. Then this hair is transplanted to the bald spot. Sometimes larger strips of skin having multiple strands of hair are taken. Seduction medicine is given to the patient to ease any sort of discomfort. The possible risks of this type of treatment are bleeding, bruising, and swelling. It can even lead to infection in the treated areas.

There can be another type of side effects too

  • Medications that help to treat male pattern baldness by shrinking the enlarged prostates can have sexual side effects. These side effects tend to persist even after the drugs are discontinued.
  • Drugs like 5-alpha-reductase inhibitors block the action of the hormones dihydrotestosterone. This hormone is more potent than testosterone. Such type of medications includes Adovart, Propecia, and Proscar. However, studies show that long term intake of such medications can shrink an enlarged prostate. This results in a condition that affects as many as half of men especially over the age of 60.
  • Intake of such medications also leads to anxiety and depression in some individuals.
  • Prolonged intake of these drugs can lead to loss of sex drive, difficulty in maintaining an erection, and reduced semen production in some males. This affects fertility.
  • Some men have also been found to develop gynecomastia- a disorder which stimulates the growth of male breast tissue.

Platelet-rich plasma

Another more recent option for treating hair loss for men is platelet-rich plasma. However such treatments are very expensive and can have minor side effects like skin irritation and formation of blisters.

Certain medications cause other types of side effects. These side effects can be mild or severe, temporary, or permanent. However, these side effects are not experienced by everyone who takes such medications.  About 1% of the people report such effects. Some of these can be managed and some may go away slowly on their own with time. Patients usually experience:

  • Backache
  • Changes in the  texture of hair
  • Symptoms of flu such as a runny nose, sore throat, and cough
  • Skin rash or continuous itching
  • Redness of the treated area
  • Dental problems
  • Irritation of the eye
  • Irritation and dryness in the area where medication was applied
  • Muscle strain or spasm.

One should immediately contact a doctor if these effects are severe or bothersome. Others experience symptoms like

  • Acne at the site where medication was applied
  • Burning of the scalp
  • Changes in the blood pressure
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling of faint
  • Headache
  • Soreness of the hair root
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Rapid weight gain
  • Sudden weight gain
  • Swelling of hands and feet
  • Temporary loss of hair
  • Unwanted growth of facial hair
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath 

In such cases, you should immediately stop taking the medications. 

It is important to seek a dermatologist’s opinion before starting a treatment for hair loss. Thinning strands can be a cause of various other medical conditions like vitamin deficiencies, hormonal imbalance, or excessive stress. People with hair loss problems should undergo thorough evaluation before starting any treatment. Such evaluations include a check of thyroid, iron, vitamin D, and level of zinc in the blood.

Hair loss is a systemic disease. People facing it can be at risk of more serious health problems like heart disease, prostate cancer, high blood pressure, or polycystic ovarian syndrome. This means that apart from the scalp, this imbalance may also affect internal organs, and opting for the wrong treatments can worsen the situation. There are lots of factors to be considered while going for the treatments for hair loss. Such decisions must be made on an individual basis under the consultant of a dermatologist.


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